Bioethics Blogs

Bentham and butterflies

Rampisham Down, in West Dorset, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. But it soon won’t be. In a decision of dazzling stupidity, the local planning committee has said that it can be covered with over 100,000 solar panels. It accepted that renewable energy was a Good Thing and, in effect, that the loss of biodiversity occasioned by the panels was a price worth paying for the sun-farmers’ contribution to the battle against climate change.

Environmentalists, normally on the side of alternative energy, have been loud in their denunciation of the decision. A good example is Miles King in the Guardian: He observes: ‘….stopping biodiversity loss is as important as stopping global warming.’

Well, no it’s not. The crassness of the decision at Rampisham doesn’t alter the stark fact that  if global warming isn’t stopped, we won’t have any biodiversity of any kind to preserve. The planners were crass because there are plenty of other, better places to put the panels. But their view of the big picture is correct.

Ethically what is in issue is whether we can/should expect species X and Y to die for the common good. That itself entails a view of ourselves as overseers of the world which looks embarrassingly like the Biblical model of Man as steward of creation. Yet it’s the only one that works. The world has been raped by wielders of that model: it’s up to wielders of the model to un-rape it. Un-raping, here, involves human restraint and renunciation. But also, and very unfortunately (since we’re so late in intervening), it involves saying to a particular species or habitat: ‘We’re going to force you to die for others.’ Like most altruistic acts, this is likely, in fact, to redound to the good of the altruist – at least if the altruist is identified as the species rather than the individual.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.